Thursday 17th March / Friday 18th March
England Kabaddi arrived at Heath
row airport on Thursday 17th March at 3pm ready to fly to Bangladesh to compete in the Bangabandhu Cup 2022.
Unfortunately we immediately ran into an issue during check in and we had to fill out a health declaration form. Later it transpired that we never even needed it! After that minor delay we grabbed some food before our flight and then boarded the plane. Some players had to run because it was the final call! But we all made it.
Once we arrived at Istanbul we took some team pictures at the airport and checked everyone's weight. There is a weight limit of 85kg for international tournaments.
The worst part of the journey was that our connecting flight was delayed for 3 hours! We filled the time by eating, playing mario kart and practising Kabaddi at the airport.
We arrived in Bangladesh around 5pm local time and we were welcomed by our liaison officer Sharif and general secretary of the International Kabaddi Federation, Mr Yoon Yeong Hak. After filling out some forms for our visa on arrival we journeyed straight to the stadium for the opening ceremony rehearsal.
Unfortunately we missed the press conference and photo shoot because of our flight delay. But it was a nice experience seeing all the teams and their delegates at the stadium. Especially players that we watched on YouTube at last years' Bangabandhu Cup, we were now seeing them in real life!
We immediately left for our hotel, checked in and went for our weigh in. All players made the 85kg limit, just about. We then went for dinner. The hotel food was fusion cuisine, with a variety of rice, chow mein, naan, paratha, chicken curry, fish curry, mixed vegetables, daal and various fruits and desserts. Very yummy!
Friday 19th March
Match day! We woke up early in the morning, had breakfast and got ready for training. We took a bus from the hotel to the stadium and we were treated like premier league footballers! Security stopped pedestrians when we walked from the hotel to the bus parked just outside. And the same occurred when we arrived at the stadium. However, we were not allowed to leave the hotel to have a walk around without security being organised which was annoying particularly at the end of the trip.
We trained lightly, focusing on warm up, a few drills and defensive movements. The temperature was around mid 30s, and despite the stadium being covered there was no air conditioning. So the players were getting used to the heat and staying hydrated.
Thankfully there were no injuries from training and we retired back to the hotel to take lunch. And then we had a video analysis session to try and learn how Bangladesh play and formulate a game plan. The mood was positive and fearless as we were the clear underdogs in this match. Bangladesh is a very strong side and trains 5 to 6 days a week!
The players got ready and we took the bus to the stadium, the nerves were starting to pick up as all the teams got ready for the opening ceremony. Another quick rehearsal before the real deal and it was buzzing, the fans were packing the grandstand, the music was upbeat and there was this furore of activity organising the event. It was being broadcast live on TV and on YouTube.
After some long speeches the opening ceremony was over and the players started warming up in the warm up area just outside the main stadium. Before every game each team sings their national anthem, safe to say some players belted it out! Toss over, the match began!
England started nervously and the scoreline reflected this with Bangladesh scoring an all out early in the first half. England's defence then scored the first tackle point and the first point of the match for England. However Bangladesh were too strong in both raiding and in defending! Bangladesh scored a second all out and the score at half time was 27 - 4.
The halftime team talk was clear, England were playing too passively and we now had nothing to lose since we were getting heavily beat. In the second half England came alive, especially the defence. Felix Li scored 5 tackle points against a very good Bangladesh side, with the whole defence supporting fantastically! The raiders also scored points in the second half, however Bangladesh kept us at arm's length and the final score was 46 - 15.
After the match the players were understandably disappointed and we watched the rest of the day's games before going back to the hotel for dinner. We all slept early since our next game was the following morning at 11:00.
Saturday 20th March
The players woke up early since we had to leave for the stadium at 9:45. The players took breakfast at 9, many were still sore from our bruising match against Bangladesh.
Once we arrived at the stadium we watched the first half of Bangladesh v Malaysia and then the players got changed into their playing kit. As we warmed up the heat was almost unbearable since it was midday, and the warm up area, whilst covered, is technically outdoors.
As the players lined up the nerves were not there and the walk on was confident. Sri Lanka are also a very strong side and a few of the players train 5 days a week. They are also a very friendly squad and before the game they gifted us each a Sri Lanka magnet. A very kind gesture!
The match got underway and this time England started much better exchanging a few points early in the match. Sri Lanka grew into the game and their main raider Saja Aslam was very good and scored a lot of points against us. Sri Lanka scored an all out in the first half and the half time scoreline was 29 - 6.
But in the second half the tide turned and the defence started firing again! All defenders scored tackle points and then the raiders all scored raid points too. Unfortunately time was against our side and the full time score was 44-19. Everyone was super happy with the second half performance, although the loss meant that England were now out of the competition. But we still had our final group game to play against Malaysia.
After watching the last match in the other group, we took lunch and relaxed for a couple of hours, resting and recuperating. In the evening some of the players played games such as chess or super smash bros. Others socialised with members from different teams such as Iraq and Kenya. All teams were super friendly and we discussed raiding techniques and defensive manoeuvres.
Sunday 21st March
Today was a rest day for the England squad, in turn that meant waking up a little later than usual. However we organised a light training session for the late morning, so the players took breakfast and headed to the stadium to practice. The team went through some drills and gained clarity ahead of our final match against Malaysia.
In the afternoon we met up with players from other teams, such as Iraq and Sri Lanka. Both were very friendly teams, but sometimes translation into English was difficult! Some of us went to the terrace to play cards or go to the gym. Others took the opportunity to call home and their loved ones. One of the overlooked aspects of tournaments is that the team tends to be stuck inside the hotel and going outside requires permission and logistical hurdles, particularly so during a pandemic.
In the evening we watched the group games that were going on. And the match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh was of the highest quality. Both teams were giving everything to try and finish top of the group and Bangladesh won by two points despite an inspired performance from Aslam Saja the Sri Lanka raider. We were in awe of the top quality and we aspired to be like them.
Monday 22nd March
Today was the final match day for us, we had breakfast and then the players met up for a team debrief. There was an optimistic feeling in the team as it was our last match but there was confidence we could win.
Our match was the final group game of the tournament and there were a lot of fans staying to watch the match. Members from the British High Commission in Dhaka came to watch and support us which was fantastic. We felt the crowd's support for sure!
The first half was difficult as Malaysia's main raider was tricky and hard to catch! On the flip side we were scoring raid points and defensive points to stay in the game. However, this was in vain as Malaysia scored an all out in the first half. This left us on the back foot going into half time.
The second half we traded blows at the start, but the defence really started to fire. And we scored tackle point after tackle point. The raiding picked up too and we started to close the gap to Malaysia. They had a 13 point lead. We secured the all out in fine fashion and the gap closed to just 8 points. Time was running out but we carried the momentum with us and tried everything to win the game, even defending the baulk line successfully! However, time ran out and we lost 31-35. So close yet so far!
The players were understandably despondent but the fans, officials and fellow players all praised our performance. And it was great to see we could compete with an Asian team like Malaysia!
Tuesday 23rd March
Today was semi finals day and weirdly it was in the afternoon instead of the evening. The team woke up later than usual, no doubt some were battered and bruised from the Malaysia match. We took lunch and then headed to the stadium to watch the semi finals.
Unfortunately both semi finals were quite one sided with Bangladesh beating Iraq and Kenya beating Sri Lanka. It looked like Sri Lanka were still tired from their match vs Bangladesh.
EKU president Oishik and coach Sanjay both got a chance to commentate on the second semi final which was a great experience! In the evening we again just chilled out, playing super smash bros, chess and cards. And we chatted to other players from Malaysia and Sri Lanka. We were all a little fed up with the hotel food so we ordered some pizza! Most people got a single personal pizza which was a little small but tasty nonetheless!
Wednesday 24th March
Today was the day of the final. But in the morning we went to the stadium to practice. We were hoping to be trained by either the Nepal or the Bangladesh coach however instead we were coached by a Bangladesh squad player. He was great at teaching us new movements such as how to perform a block.
Once we finished training we went back to the hotel for lunch and freshened up. We either chilled on the terrace or in the lobbies, playing games as usual. In the evening it was time for the final and safe to say the stadium was packed. There was a terrific atmosphere with the majority supporting Bangladesh. We had a pitch side view which was close to the action but hard to see the near side so we had to stand to see everything.
Nonetheless we had a terrific time watching the high quality match between Kenya and Bangladesh with the majority of us supporting the underdogs Kenya. The match was tight and at times controversial but Bangladesh won the tournament for the second time!
Later that evening we went to a shopping mall for dinner and we went to this sort of market hall place where everyone got something different. The unusual part was that we needed two police officers for security at all times. It certainly caught the public's attention! In the evening we said goodbye to most of the opponents in some cases exchanging numbers and following each other on social media accounts.
Thursday 25th March
The last day was relaxing and the team had a fantastic time. We all checked out of the hotel and left around 11am to go for lunch. We went to this fancy restaurant in the Gulshan district called Khazana and the food was amazing! After which we were invited to go to the British High Commision down the road to demonstrate Kabaddi to the workers there and then to just chill out at the premises and relax until our evening flight.
At the British High Commision venue they have tennis courts, table tennis, cricket equipment and a swimming pool. Safe to say we had plenty of things to do! There was also a bar and restaurant where we had a drink or two in the afternoon and dinner in the evening respectively. A thoroughly enjoyable day which we were all grateful for!
At around 7pm we left for the airport to catch our flight back to London via Istanbul. It was relatively event free, with our first flight being delayed for an hour or so but we still had plenty of time to kill before our second flight.
A fantastic tournament experience for us all, no doubt we will be back, with more experience and more technical skills.